Nov 13, 2016 I Brett Tingley

Strange “Funnel” Crater On Mars Could Host Martian Life

The search for life on Mars has taken a few surprising turns lately. One study found that seismic ‘Marsquakes’ might release hydrogen gases deep under the Martian surface which could possibly sustain hydrogenotrophic microbes. Just last month, another publication announced that 40-year old data from the Viking 1 probe might have actually contained overlooked evidence of Martian life. More recently, a study led by researchers from the University of Texas (UT) has shown that several strange funnel-shaped depressions on the Martian surface might be capable of supporting life on the red planet.

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Images of the funnel taken by the NASA Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

According to a press release issued by UT, lead researcher Joseph Levy says his team was initially drawn to the funnels by their strange appearance, but soon found that evidence of several key ingredients for life was discovered in the depressions:

These landforms caught our eye because they’re weird looking. They’re concentrically fractured so they look like a bulls-eye. That can be a very diagnostic pattern you see in Earth materials. We were drawn to this site because it looked like it could host some of the key ingredients for habitability — water, heat and nutrients.

According to the researchers’ published data in the awesomely-named astrophysics journal Icarus, the observable features surrounding this strange funnel indicate that liquid water once melted down into the center of the funnel or ran down from the sides.

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Topographic data shows that these funnels go deep into the Martian surface and have steep sides, indicating that water likely once flowed down them.

The most plausible scenario for this melt would be volcanic activity, meaning the combination of volcanic minerals and liquid water would be a perfect recipe for primordial soup.

Similar features are found on Earth in frozen areas with subterranean volcanic activity.

The strange funnel shaped depression was originally discovered in 2009 hiding in plain sight in images captured by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The funnel is found in the Hellas impact basin, a massive crater in Mars’ southern hemisphere that holds the distinction of being the largest impact crater in the Solar System. If life is indeed found within the impact basin, it could lend some credence to the Panspermia theories which speculate that life is spread throughout the Universe by comets, asteroids, meteorites, and other traveling cosmic objects.  

Brett Tingley

Brett Tingley is a writer and musician living in the ancient Appalachian mountains.

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